Review: Sarah Hennies + Cristián Alvear – Orienting Response

a1130339394_16Play as accurately and consistently as possible but with the assumption that “mistakes” are inevitable.
Allow “mistakes” to occur, do not attempt to correct them.
All sounds should ring freely (as long as is possible) unless otherwise indicated.
All timings and tempi are approximate and flexible.

It’s important that Hennies places the word “mistakes” in quote marks. The word is a succinct descriptor for those discordances between intention and action, but it’s also associated with gestures that are incorrect and should be eradicated and scrubbed out. It implies that, in the event of a mistake, the enactment of a sequence should either stop – so that the sequence or piece can be repeated, hopefully this time without flaw – or at the very least, the performance should be considered as an inauthentic depiction of the composer’s instructions. It’s funny that the word “mistake” itself is somewhat inaccurate in this context, with quote marks used to highlight this slight misalignment between intention and articulation. The player and audience must meet the artist halfway. We know what Hennies really means.

Similarly, when the repeated gestures of guitarist Cristián Alvear diverge from Sarah Hennies’ score momentarily, courtesy of a misplaced fretting finger or a misfired string pluck, the liberty afforded by the compositional instructions (present also in words such as “should”, “approximate” and “as possible”) means that the flow is not broken. The music can continue without a hitch, because all we are promised is the player’s best endeavour. As listeners and human beings, in our wonderful imperfections and inconsistencies, we can appreciate that our very inimitability resides in the distance we fall from the exact. Because of this, Alvear is excused for every single buzz, scuff and instrumental cough he allows to spill over the sides, because Orienting Response is all the more beautiful for them.

Over the course of these two pieces, Alvear’s acoustic guitar centres on miniscule phrases and refrains. Sometimes they consist of two harmonies plucked in alternation, creating pendulum-esque ticks that sway back and forth. Sometimes they’re chords strummed incessantly, creating duets between the strike of the strings and the continuous, resonant acoustic hum wafting out of the wood. As he moves into the higher registers, plucking brittle chimes out of the guitar headstock, these “mistakes” start to jut out like cracks in porcelain, stark for how they fall against the white of silence. Because I don’t know the exact instruction put forth by Hennies in each instance, I can only approximate an understanding through the repetition of each gesture. Yet through each repeat, I start to develop an increasingly vivid impression of the original command, as Alvear’s imperfect execution forms a tighter and tighter circle around Hennies’ spotless conceptual premise. Gradually, patiently, effortlessly, the law of averages brings composer and player into line.